The first thing that struck me about October File was how much the guitars reminded me of one of my all time favorite bands, Voivod. Kind of off time, unorthodox in approach, discordant, mysterious, almost like the tones were being transmitted from a far off planet in some alternate universe. I immediately gravitated to that sound and let the rest of the hardcore-ish noise of Die Kreuzen wash over me in due time. The vocals eventually wore me down like a rushing river carving away age old limestone, the bass chiseling at the lifetime of sedimentary build up, and the drums jack hammering the larger chunks of resistance into silt. I remember that at the time of my introduction to this band that I had no idea what to make of them. I just knew that they were weird in comparison to the rest of the music that was out there, ergo, Die Kreuzen were cool. The music had this aggressive sound, but not in the thundering, double bass drum detuned chugging guitar way. It was more cerebral. Not that I totally “got it,” I just knew that it was headier than the average punk music of the time. And then there was the look. Four disheveled figures emerging from a patch of overgrown weeds, hair flying every which way, clothes that looked like they were slept in, facial expressions of wonderment that they were still breathing, Die Kreuzen epitomized grunge before there ever was such a thing.
Cracking open the skull with the dissonant guitars on “Man in the Trees,” Die Kreuzen immediately sucked me in with the mesmerizing inner rhythms of the song. The guitars mix tight, staccato riffs, open sustained chords and pitched harmonics throughout both the verse and chorus of the song. The vocals explode in their high pitched screech, somewhat atonal and incoherent, but filled with a manic angst that’s compelling in its own right. Honestly, to this day, I have no idea what vocalist Dan Kubinski is ranting about, but I dig it. He conveys the emotion with that perfect mix of sentiment and rage that I can’t help but sit transfixed to my rumbling speakers as this song bursts out of them. And then there’s “It’s Been So Long,” up tempo and filled with a heavy bass groove. The guitar work of Brain Egeness is absolutely amazing and I’m tripping pretty hard that I’m just now noticing the intricacies of the work! Egeness almost sounds like he’s letting the guitar do its own thing while he simply steers the sound in the general direction of the song. The notes played aren’t always what’s expected, giving the impression that this guy has no idea how to play his instrument. But, on closer inspection, as the song unfolds and the textures of the notes interweave with one another, it becomes glaringly obvious that Egeness is an understated genius.
“Among the Ruins” is a blistering quasi-epic. Crisp snare drums snap the beat in time while the bass punches its precise groove, the guitars . . . need I go on about the guitars? Sheesh! While listening to this song, it’s easy to hear where the late, great Piggy of Voivod fame looked for inspiration. The spacey tones of the guitar seamlessly mix with the harder, palm muted riffs, creating a wondrous display of textural sound. The vocals, a bit more melodic, delicately dance their way through the minefield of guitar reverberation. And then there’s “Hide and Seek.” More of that rich guitar texture fills the open space between the bass and drums, unorthodox in approach, masterful in execution. Damn . . . listen to those harmonics in place of the traditional guitar solo! Such flavor!
Mixed in with the more artful-type metallic numbers, Die Kreuzen kick out the more punked out hardcore jams. “Imagine a Light” and “Conditioned” are up tempo pieces filled with manic energy. Keith Brammer’s fat bass lines fuel the piston pumping rhythms of Erik Tunison’s frantic drumming, propelling the songs with an urgency that was prevalent in the punk underground for years. Kubinski’s spazzed out, multi-layered venomous vocals work perfectly with the high octane power of the music, giving the music an edgy vitality that seems just as important today as it did in 1986. And, to keep things totally interesting, keeping their fan base guessing at what they’re gonna’ do next, Die Kreuzen break into a mid tempo acoustic guitar based tune in “Cool Breeze.” This one comes across sounding a bit like Soul Asylum or mid 90’s Goo Goo Dolls, catchy with a nice pop sensibility, accessible while staying dangerous. Gotta’ love how these guys played by their own set of rules.
Over the years, October File has become one of those albums that I reach for on those days when no other music will suffice. When I get tired of everything else that’s out there, I simply reach for it because I know that I’ll hear something that I never realized was there before. Kind of like listening to the great Thelonious Monk. It’s not something that I could listen to every day because it can get to be “too out there,” but it does recharge the musical batteries and allows me new perspective to listen to other music again. The level of diversity within the grooves of this disc makes me want to explore more of Die Kreuzen’s catalog and see what other goodies are out there that I’ve been missing. As it is, I never realized that the guitar work was so otherworldly. My God, Brian Egeness was doing things that add so many new elements to the music that I can’t help but listen to these songs over and over again. So many subtle differences within each song. So many different voices. Loved by many, Die Kreuzen’s music has influenced the sounds of a number of different bands like Sonic Youth, Voivod, and a bevy of the Seattle grunge-era bands. Does that mean you all are gonna’ love it? Odds are no. However, if you like music that’s just left of center, you like innovative guitar playing, and music that has an edge to it, October File is as good a place as any to pick up and rock out. Maybe even discover a new you! - Pope JTE